Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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a place, and one and all were shut out from politics and public life.
Nearly all the "free-livers" were men of unusual mental powers; some
held out against the enervating life, others were ruined by it. The
most celebrated and the cleverest among them was Eugene Rastignac, who
entered, with de Marsay's help, upon a political career, in which he
has since distinguished himself. The practical jokes, in which the set
indulged became so famous, that not a few vaudevilles have been founded
upon them.

Blondet introduced Lucien to this society of prodigals, of which he
became a brilliant ornament, ranking next to Bixiou, one of the most
mischievous and untiring scoffing wits of his time. All through that
winter Lucien's life was one long fit of intoxication, with intervals of
easy work. He continued his series of sketches of contemporary life,
and very occasionally made great efforts to write a few pages of serious
criticism, on which he brought his utmost power of thought to bear.
But study was the exception, not the rule, and only undertaken at the
bidding of necessity; dinners and breakfasts, parties of pleasure and
play, took up most of his time, and Coralie absorbed all that was left.
He would not think of the morrow. He saw besides that his so-called
friends were leading the same life, earning money easily by writing
publishers' prospectuses and articles paid for by speculators; all of
them lived beyond their incomes, none of them thought seriously of the

Lucien had been admitted into the ranks of journalism and of literature
on terms of equality; he foresaw immense difficulties in the way if he
should try to rise above the rest. Every one was willing to look upon
him as an equal; no one would have him for a superior. Unconsciously he
gave up the idea of winning fame in literature, for it seemed easier to
gain success in politics.

"Intrigue raises less opposition than talent," du Chatelet had said one
day (for Lucien and the Baron had made up their quarrel); "a plot below
the surface rouses no one's attention. Intrigue, moreover, is superior
to talent, for it makes something out of nothing; while, for the most
part, the immense resources of talent only injure a man."

So Lucien never lost sight of his principal idea; and though to-morrow,
following close upon the heels of to-day in the midst of an orgy, never
found the promised work accomplished, Lucien was assiduous in society.
He paid court to Mme. de Bargeton, the Marquise d'Espard, and the
Comtesse de Montcornet; he never missed a single party given by Mlle.
des Touches, appearing in society after a dinner given by authors or
publishers, and leaving the salons for a supper given in consequence of
a bet. The demands of conversation and the excitement of play absorbed
all the ideas and energy left by excess. The poet had lost the lucidity
of judgment and coolness of head which must be preserved if a man is
to see all that is going on around him, and never to lose the exquisite
tact which the _parvenu_ needs at every moment. How should he know how
many a time Mme. de Bargeton left him with wounded susceptibilities, how
often she forgave him or added one more condemnation to the rest?

Chatelet saw that his rival had still a chance left, so he became
Lucien's friend. He encouraged the poet in dissipation that wasted his
energies. Rastignac, jealous of his fellow-countryman, and thinking,
besides, that Chatelet would be a surer and more useful ally than
Lucien, had taken up the Baron's cause. So, some few days after the
meeting of the Petrarch and Laura of Angouleme, Rastignac brought about
the reconciliation between the poet and the elderly beau at a sumptuous
supper given at the _Rocher de Cancale_. Lucien never returned home till
morning, and rose in the middle of the day; Coralie was always at his
side, he could not forego a single pleasure. Sometimes he saw his real
position, and made good resolutions, but they came to nothing in
his idle, easy life; and the mainspring of will grew slack, and only
responded to the heaviest pressure of necessity.

Coralie had been glad that Lucien should amuse himself; she had
encouraged him in this reckless expenditure, because she thought
that the cravings which she fostered would bind her lover to her. But
tender-hearted and loving as she was, she found courage to advise Lucien
not to forget his work, and once or twice was obliged to remind him that
he had earned very little during the month. Their debts were growing
frightfully fast. The fifteen hundred francs which remained from the
purchase-money of the _Marguerites_ had been swallowed up at once,
together with Lucien's first five hundred livres. In three months he had
only made a thousand francs, yet he felt as though he had been working
tremendously hard. But by this time Lucien had adopted the "free-livers"
pleasant theory of debts.

Debts are becoming to a young man, but after the age of five-and-twenty
they are inexcusable. It should be observed that there are certain
natures in which a really poetic temper is united with a weakened will;
and these while absorbed in feeling, that they may transmute personal
experience, sensation, or impression into some permanent form are
essentially deficient in the moral sense which should accompany all
observation. Poets prefer rather to receive their own impressions
than to enter into the souls of others to study the mechanism of their
feelings and thoughts. So Lucien neither asked his associates what
became of those who disappeared from among them, nor looked into the
futures of his so-called friends. Some of them were heirs to property,
others had definite expectations; yet others either possessed names that
were known in the world, or a most robust belief in their destiny and
a fixed resolution to circumvent the law. Lucien, too, believed in
his future on the strength of various profound axiomatic sayings
of Blondet's: "Everything comes out all right at last - If a man has
nothing, his affairs cannot be embarrassed - We have nothing to lose
but the fortune that we seek - Swim with the stream; it will take you
somewhere - A clever man with a footing in society can make a fortune
whenever he pleases."

That winter, filled as it was with so many pleasures and dissipations,
was a necessary interval employed in finding capital for the new
Royalist paper; Theodore Gaillard and Hector Merlin only brought out the
first number of the _Reveil_ in March 1822. The affair had been settled
at Mme. du Val-Noble's house. Mme. du val-Noble exercised a certain
influence over the great personages, Royalist writers, and bankers who
met in her splendid rooms - "fit for a tale out of the _Arabian Nights_,"
as the elegant and clever courtesan herself used to say - to transact
business which could not be arranged elsewhere. The editorship had been
promised to Hector Merlin. Lucien, Merlin's intimate, was pretty certain
to be his right-hand man, and a _feuilleton_ in a Ministerial paper
had been promised to him besides. All through the dissipations of that
winter Lucien had been secretly making ready for this change of front.
Child as he was, he fancied that he was a deep politician because he
concealed the preparation for the approaching transformation-scene,
while he was counting upon Ministerial largesses to extricate himself
from embarrassment and to lighten Coralie's secret cares. Coralie said
nothing of her distress; she smiled now, as always; but Berenice was
bolder, she kept Lucien informed of their difficulties; and the budding
great man, moved, after the fashion of poets, by the tale of disasters,
would vow that he would begin to work in earnest, and then forget his
resolution, and drown his fleeting cares in excess. One day Coralie saw
the poetic brow overcast, and scolded Berenice, and told her lover that
everything would be settled.

Mme. d'Espard and Mme. de Bargeton were waiting for Lucien's profession
of his new creed, so they said, before applying through Chatelet for
the patent which should permit Lucien to bear the so-much desired name.
Lucien had proposed to dedicate the _Marguerites_ to Mme. d'Espard, and
the Marquise seemed to be not a little flattered by a compliment which
authors have been somewhat chary of paying since they became a power in
the land; but when Lucien went to Dauriat and asked after his book, that
worthy publisher met him with excellent reasons for the delay in its
appearance. Dauriat had this and that in hand, which took up all his
time; a new volume by Canalis was coming out, and he did not want the
two books to clash; M. de Lamartine's second series of _Meditations_
was in the press, and two important collections of poetry ought not to
appear together.

By this time, however, Lucien's needs were so pressing that he had
recourse to Finot, and received an advance on his work. When, at a
supper-party that evening, the poet journalist explained his position
to his friends in the fast set, they drowned his scruples in champagne,
iced with pleasantries. Debts! There was never yet a man of any power
without debts! Debts represented satisfied cravings, clamorous vices.
A man only succeeds under the pressure of the iron hand of necessity.
Debts forsooth!

"Why, the one pledge of which a great man can be sure, is given him by
his friend the pawnbroker," cried Blondet.

"If you want everything, you must owe for everything," called Bixiou.

"No," corrected des Lupeaulx, "if you owe for everything, you have had

The party contrived to convince the novice that his debts were a golden
spur to urge on the horses of the chariot of his fortunes. There
is always the stock example of Julius Caesar with his debt of forty
millions, and Friedrich II. on an allowance of one ducat a month, and a
host of other great men whose failings are held up for the corruption
of youth, while not a word is said of their wide-reaching ideas, their
courage equal to all odds.

Creditors seized Coralie's horses, carriage, and furniture at last, for
an amount of four thousand francs. Lucien went to Lousteau and asked
his friend to meet his bill for the thousand francs lent to pay gaming
debts; but Lousteau showed him certain pieces of stamped paper, which
proved that Florine was in much the same case. Lousteau was grateful,
however, and offered to take the necessary steps for the sale of
Lucien's _Archer of Charles IX._

"How came Florine to be in this plight?" asked Lucien.

"The Matifat took alarm," said Lousteau. "We have lost him; but if
Florine chooses, she can make him pay dear for his treachery. I will
tell you all about it."

Three days after this bootless errand, Lucien and Coralie were
breakfasting in melancholy spirits beside the fire in their pretty
bedroom. Berenice had cooked a dish of eggs for them over the grate; for
the cook had gone, and the coachman and servants had taken leave. They
could not sell the furniture, for it had been attached; there was not
a single object of any value in the house. A goodly collection of
pawntickets, forming a very instructive octavo volume, represented all
the gold, silver, and jewelry. Berenice had kept back a couple of spoons
and forks, that was all.

Lousteau's newspaper was of service now to Coralie and Lucien, little as
they suspected it; for the tailor, dressmaker, and milliner were afraid
to meddle with a journalist who was quite capable of writing down their

Etienne Lousteau broke in upon their breakfast with a shout of "Hurrah!
Long live _The Archer of Charles IX._! And I have converted a hundred
francs worth of books into cash, children. We will go halves."

He handed fifty francs to Coralie, and sent Berenice out in quest of a
more substantial breakfast.

"Hector Merlin and I went to a booksellers' trade dinner yesterday, and
prepared the way for your romance with cunning insinuations. Dauriat is
in treaty, but Dauriat is haggling over it; he won't give more than
four thousand francs for two thousand copies, and you want six thousand
francs. We made you out twice as great as Sir Walter Scott! Oh! you have
such novels as never were in the inwards of you. It is not a mere book
for sale, it is a big business; you are not simply the writer of one
more or less ingenious novel, you are going to write a whole series. The
word 'series' did it! So, mind you, don't forget that you have a great
historical series on hand - _La Grande Mademoiselle_, or _The France of
Louis Quatorze_; _Cotillon I._, or _The Early Days of Louis Quinze_;
_The Queen and the Cardinal_, or _Paris and the Fronde_; _The Son of the
Concini_, or _Richelieu's Intrigue_. These novels will be announced on
the wrapper of the book. We call this manoeuvre 'giving a success a toss
in the coverlet,' for the titles are all to appear on the cover, till
you will be better known for the books that you have not written than
for the work you have done. And 'In the Press' is a way of gaining
credit in advance for work that you will do. Come, now, let us have a
little fun! Here comes the champagne. You can understand, Lucien, that
our men opened eyes as big as saucers. By the by, I see that you have
saucers still left."

"They are attached," explained Coralie.

"I understand, and I resume. Show a publisher one manuscript volume
and he will believe in all the rest. A publisher asks to see your
manuscript, and gives you to understand that he is going to read it. Why
disturb his harmless vanity? They never read a manuscript; they would
not publish so many if they did. Well, Hector and I allowed it to leak
out that you might consider an offer of five thousand francs for three
thousand copies, in two editions. Let me have your _Archer_; the day
after to-morrow we are to breakfast with the publishers, and we will get
the upper hand of them."

"Who are they?" asked Lucien.

"Two partners named Fendant and Cavalier; they are two good fellows,
pretty straightforward in business. One of them used to be with Vidal
and Porchon, the other is the cleverest hand on the Quai des Augustins.
They only started in business last year, and have lost a little on
translations of English novels; so now my gentlemen have a mind to
exploit the native product. There is a rumor current that those dealers
in spoiled white paper are trading on other people's capital; but I
don't think it matters very much to you who finds the money, so long as
you are paid."

Two days later, the pair went to a breakfast in the Rue Serpente, in
Lucien's old quarter of Paris. Lousteau still kept his room in the
Rue de la Harpe; and it was in the same state as before, but this
time Lucien felt no surprise; he had been initiated into the life of
journalism; he knew all its ups and downs. Since that evening of his
introduction to the Wooden Galleries, he had been paid for many an
article, and gambled away the money along with the desire to write.
He had filled columns, not once but many times, in the ingenious ways
described by Lousteau on that memorable evening as they went to the
Palais Royal. He was dependent upon Barbet and Braulard; he trafficked
in books and theatre-tickets; he shrank no longer from any attack, from
writing any panegyric; and at this moment he was in some sort rejoicing
to make all he could out of Lousteau before turning his back on the
Liberals. His intimate knowledge of the party would stand him in good
stead in future. And Lousteau, on his side, was privately receiving five
hundred francs of purchase-money, under the name of commission, from
Fendant and Cavalier for introducing the future Sir Walter Scott to two
enterprising tradesmen in search of a French Author of "Waverley."

The firm of Fendant and Cavalier had started in business without any
capital whatsoever. A great many publishing houses were established at
that time in the same way, and are likely to be established so long as
papermakers and printers will give credit for the time required to play
some seven or eight of the games of chance called "new publications." At
that time, as at present, the author's copyright was paid for in bills
at six, nine, and twelve months - a method of payment determined by the
custom of the trade, for booksellers settle accounts between themselves
by bills at even longer dates. Papermakers and printers are paid in the
same way, so that in practice the publisher-bookseller has a dozen or a
score of works on sale for a twelvemonth before he pays for them. Even
if only two or three of these hit the public taste, the profitable
speculations pay for the bad, and the publisher pays his way by
grafting, as it were, one book upon another. But if all of them turn out
badly; or if, for his misfortune, the publisher-bookseller happens to
bring out some really good literature which stays on hand until the
right public discovers and appreciates it; or if it costs too much to
discount the paper that he receives, then, resignedly, he files his
schedule, and becomes a bankrupt with an untroubled mind. He was
prepared all along for something of the kind. So, all the chances being
in favor of the publishers, they staked other people's money, not their
own upon the gaming-table of business speculation.

This was the case with Fendant and Cavalier. Cavalier brought his
experience, Fendant his industry; the capital was a joint-stock affair,
and very accurately described by that word, for it consisted in a few
thousand francs scraped together with difficulty by the mistresses of
the pair. Out of this fund they allowed each other a fairly handsome
salary, and scrupulously spent it all in dinners to journalists and
authors, or at the theatre, where their business was transacted, as they
said. This questionably honest couple were both supposed to be clever
men of business, but Fendant was more slippery than Cavalier. Cavalier,
true to his name, traveled about, Fendant looked after business in
Paris. A partnership between two publishers is always more or less of a
duel, and so it was with Fendant and Cavalier.

They had brought out plenty of romances already, such as the _Tour
du Nord_, _Le Marchand de Benares_, _La Fontaine du Sepulcre_, and
_Tekeli_, translations of the works of Galt, an English novelist who
never attained much popularity in France. The success of translations of
Scott had called the attention of the trade to English novels. The
race of publishers, all agog for a second Norman conquest, were seeking
industriously for a second Scott, just as at a rather later day every
one must needs look for asphalt in stony soil, or bitumen in marshes,
and speculate in projected railways. The stupidity of the Paris
commercial world is conspicuous in these attempts to do the same thing
twice, for success lies in contraries; and in Paris, of all places in
the world, success spoils success. So beneath the title of _Strelitz,
or Russia a Hundred Years Ago_, Fendant and Cavalier rashly added in big
letters the words, "In the style of Scott."

Fendant and Cavalier were in great need of a success. A single good book
might float their sunken bales, they thought; and there was the alluring
prospect besides of articles in the newspapers, the great way of
promoting sales in those days. A book is very seldom bought and sold
for its just value, and purchases are determined by considerations quite
other than the merits of the work. So Fendant and Cavalier thought of
Lucien as a journalist, and of his book as a salable article, which
would help them to tide over their monthly settlement.

The partners occupied the ground floor of one of the great old-fashioned
houses in the Rue Serpente; their private office had been contrived at
the further end of a suite of large drawing-rooms, now converted into
warehouses for books. Lucien and Etienne found the publishers in their
office, the agreement drawn up, and the bills ready. Lucien wondered at
such prompt action.

Fendant was short and thin, and by no means reassuring of aspect. With
his low, narrow forehead, sunken nose, and hard mouth, he looked like
a Kalmuck Tartar; a pair of small, wide-awake black eyes, the crabbed
irregular outline of his countenance, a voice like a cracked bell - the
man's whole appearance, in fact, combined to give the impression that
this was a consummate rascal. A honeyed tongue compensated for these
disadvantages, and he gained his ends by talk. Cavalier, a stout,
thick-set young fellow, looked more like the driver of a mail coach than
a publisher; he had hair of a sandy color, a fiery red countenance, and
the heavy build and untiring tongue of a commercial traveler.

"There is no need to discuss this affair," said Fendant, addressing
Lucien and Lousteau. "I have read the work, it is very literary, and so
exactly the kind of thing we want, that I have sent it off as it is to
the printer. The agreement is drawn on the lines laid down, and besides,
we always make the same stipulations in all cases. The bills fall due
in six, nine, and twelve months respectively; you will meet with no
difficulty in discounting them, and we will refund you the discount. We
have reserved the right of giving a new title to the book. We don't
care for _The Archer of Charles IX._; it doesn't tickle the reader's
curiosity sufficiently; there were several kings of that name, you
see, and there were so many archers in the Middle Ages. If you had only
called it the _Soldier of Napoleon_, now! But _The Archer of Charles
IX._! - why, Cavalier would have to give a course of history lessons
before he could place a copy anywhere in the provinces."

"If you but knew the class of people that we have to do with!" exclaimed

"_Saint Bartholomew_ would suit better," continued Fendant.

"_Catherine de' Medici, or France under Charles IX._, would sound more
like one of Scott's novels," added Cavalier.

"We will settle it when the work is printed," said Fendant.

"Do as you please, so long as I approve your title," said Lucien.

The agreement was read over, signed in duplicate, and each of the
contracting parties took their copy. Lucien put the bills in his pocket
with unequaled satisfaction, and the four repaired to Fendant's abode,
where they breakfasted on beefsteaks and oysters, kidneys in champagne,
and Brie cheese; but if the fare was something of the homeliest, the
wines were exquisite; Cavalier had an acquaintance a traveler in the
wine trade. Just as they sat down to table the printer appeared, to
Lucien's surprise, with the first two proof-sheets.

"We want to get on with it," Fendant said; "we are counting on your
book; we want a success confoundedly badly."

The breakfast, begun at noon, lasted till five o'clock.

"Where shall we get cash for these things?" asked Lucien as they came
away, somewhat heated and flushed with the wine.

"We might try Barbet," suggested Etienne, and they turned down to the
Quai des Augustins.

"Coralie is astonished to the highest degree over Florine's loss.
Florine only told her about it yesterday; she seemed to lay the blame of
it on you, and was so vexed, that she was ready to throw you over."

"That's true," said Lousteau. Wine had got the better of prudence, and
he unbosomed himself to Lucien, ending up with: "My friend - for you are
my friend, Lucien; you lent me a thousand francs, and you have only
once asked me for the money - shun play! If I had never touched a card, I
should be a happy man. I owe money all round. At this moment I have
the bailiffs at my heels; indeed, when I go to the Palais Royal, I have
dangerous capes to double."

In the language of the fast set, doubling a cape meant dodging a
creditor, or keeping out of his way. Lucien had not heard the expression
before, but he was familiar with the practice by this time.

"Are your debts so heavy?"

"A mere trifle," said Lousteau. "A thousand crowns would pull me
through. I have resolved to turn steady and give up play, and I have
done a little 'chantage' to pay my debts."

"What is 'chantage'?" asked Lucien.

"It is an English invention recently imported. A 'chanteur' is a man
who can manage to put a paragraph in the papers - never an editor nor a
responsible man, for they are not supposed to know anything about it,
and there is always a Giroudeau or a Philippe Bridau to be found. A
bravo of this stamp finds up somebody who has his own reasons for not
wanting to be talked about. Plenty of people have a few peccadilloes, or
some more or less original sin, upon their consciences; there are plenty
of fortunes made in ways that would not bear looking into; sometimes
a man has kept the letter of the law, and sometimes he has not; and

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 23 of 29)